Councillor's expenses investigation to begin this month
3:30pm Saturday 15th September 2012 in News
An investigation into the expenses of a prominent member of Wandsworth’s Conservative party will begin later this month.
Councillor Robert Morritt, who represents East Putney, stepped down from his council committee responsibilities in August following pressure from Wandsworth Council leader Councillor Ravi Govindia.
Coun Morritt, who has retained his role as a councillor despite the controversy, has been asked to explain expenses accrued while working for the Wandsworth Conservative Group (WCG).
Coun Morritt, a public affairs manager, has denied any wrongdoing after a report, leaked to the Wandsworth Guardian, raised questions about more than £60,000 worth of his expense claims.
The investigation will be chaired by the leader of Hillingdon Council, Councillor Ray Puddifoot, and it is expected to start next week and be completed before Christmas.
Mr Puddifoot, a highly regarded public servant, has led the north-west local authority for the last 12 years.
However, due to the nature of local politics, Coun Morritt cannot be sacked even if the report into his expenses is damning because he was elected to office by the public.
A source said: "If Robert is found to have committed any wrongdoing as a result of the investigation, it would be up to him to resign.
"There is no structure in place, other than a criminal procedure, to forcibly remove someone as a councillor."
Opposition councillors have asked for clarification on why the allegations have only come to light recently.
Councillor Rex Osborn, leader of Wandsworth Labour party, said: "The allegations of misuse of Conservative funds are very serious and may be a matter for the police."
Responding to the allegations, Coun Morritt said: "It is a sad fact in politics that malicious individuals can fire-off accusations about people who are elected to serve their communities, and in certain quarters have their vicious claims taken at face value.
"Therefore I would welcome an independent review of the work I delivered for my previous employer, and for this to be conducted by a suitable person as soon as is possible.
"I will be writing to Wandsworth's chief executive so that he is aware I will be voluntarily not attending any committees until the report is concluded."
Coun Morritt was a member of the finance and corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee, and helped Coun Govindia in his campaign to become leader.
He was also a member of the general purposes committee, adult care and health overview and scrutiny committee, joint staff committee and the standing advisory council on religious education.
The next full council meeting takes place on October 17.